Recently three acquaintances lost their respective husbands. I have seen them struggle not to just cope with the grief, but also the practicalities of life. Seeing their pain of not knowing how to access bank accounts and find important information moved me to action. By following the steps that are outlined below, you can help your loved ones avoid this pain. You don’t have to try to do everything at once. Just take one baby step at a time!

To get started, the first step is to declutter. Don’t wait for later, get rid of things now. Family members or friends may be in need or collection organizations will readily pick up. Also consolidate bank, investment, and other accounts if possible.

As you do think about end of life, all kinds of thoughts start to cross your mind. To ease the burden, empower your next of kin by educating them about what and how to do these essential things. If you have gender defined roles of provider and caregiver, help educate your partner. Learn about the role your partner plays and document the key things the other would need to know to carry on.

Below are some ideas of the very basic “baby step” tasks that will help you get organized. You should maintain digital and hardcopy versions.

Do a Physical Inventory – cars, jewelry, collectibles, anything you can touch. Take photos, make notations as to who should get them. Save these and make copies of computer files for backup.

Do a non-Physical Inventory – will, health care proxy, banking, 401(k)/IRA, life insurance, etc. Assemble credit cards and debts list mortgage, home equity loan, other monies owed make sure you list beneficiaries and transfer on death on these accounts. Support this list with hard copies. Create a folder and update periodically.

Document your online accounts – include site address, username and password. Consider a password manager application or secure place to keep this information. Make sure someone knows where to find it!

Make your wishes known – Write a letter and tell the people who matter if you want to be cremated or buried, or other funeral wishes. Craft any special message that you may wish to communicate to them. Include a list of your important contacts. Add this to your folder.

Start a conversation with your loved ones – There is a lot of discomfort when talking about end of life and terminal illness. In some cultures, it is considered a bad omen and therefore taboo. Often times it is easier to talk about such a topic in a large group. Once the topic comes up, other people will typically join in. Another approach is to express your wishes to your loved one and then coax them into opening up. You could also share this article and begin a conversation.

Start with this to do list today. Give yourself a pat on the back for each item checked off. Completing and keeping this information up to date will leave a legacy your next of kin will cherish and appreciate.

By Renu Jethmalani. She owns and operates Renz Consulting LLC that provides HR and administration consulting services to small businesses and individuals. To contact her call at (732) 910-4646 or send a email to

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